Symbolism is a movement that initially occurred in literature in 19th century in France, and got carried on by the artists afterwards. The label "symbolist" itself comes from the critic Jean Moréas, who coined it in order to distinguish the symbolists from the related decadent movement in literature and art. In 1886 he published “The Symbolist Manifesto” which announced that symbolism was hostile to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description". French Symbolism was both a continuation of the Romantic tradition and a reaction to the realistic approach of impressionism. The art movement itself represents an elegant, subtle and intellectual style. The central element of this is an idea of a mystery and spirit. They were convinced that reality could be described in allegoric way by symbols in poetry, art and music. They believed in spirit and another reality which is rather explain by emotions, dreams and senses. The symbolism wasn’t exacts an art movement but comprehensive ideological trend. But you can always recognise pictures which belong to that period by their metaphorical, suggestive manner and romantic tradition. There were several distinct groups of symbolist painters and visual artists, which included Gustave Moreau, Gustav Klimt, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Odilon Redon, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edvard Munch, Félicien Rops, and Jan Toorop. As an art movement symbolism influenced significantly on such movements as Expressionism and Surrealism, which descend directly from it.
Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the sphinx, 1884, Oil on canvas, 206,4 × 104,8 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gustav Klimt, A section of the Beethoven Frieze, 1901, Österreichische Galerie
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, The White Rocks (1869-1872), Oil on canvas,60 × 72,5 cm
Fantin-Latour, Henri, Naiad Circa 1896, Oil on canvas,41.5 x 55 cm